New Year Traditions Around the World

In America, most of us celebrate a new year on January 1, according to the Gregorian calendar. But some parts of the world have different traditions.

For those of us celebrating the passing of a year at midnight on December 31 with kisses continuing into January 1, do we remember that it was Julius Cesar who, in 46 BC, decided to honor the pagan god Janus by taking that day as the commencement of each new calendar year? Hence the name "January."

Janus was considered the god of beginnings, ends, passages and time, and was always depicted with two faces, one towards the past, and one facing forward to the future.

Friends, families and lovers meet for a feast, some Champagne, firecrackers, funny hats and a kiss under the hanged mistletoe, while sincerely vowing to follow good resolutions.

Christmas Island is the first place on Earth to enter into a new year, followed by New Zealand, and a tiny bit of Russia, but Sydney, Australia is the first large city to welcome the New Year, smack in the middle of their summer, often with a bonfire on the beach, as of course, their weather allows it. The magnificent fireworks display on the landmark harbour is a famous event of the continent.

Fifteen hours later, New York celebrates with the drop of the crystal ball at Times square, with a bevy of freezing celebrities trying their best to sing in the misty weather. The new mayor will deliver a few words of self-satisfaction to thousands of proud New Yorkers.

The last city to hit the divide in time is Honolulu, Hawaii. In China and some other Asian countries, the New Year celebration does not fall on the same date each year, but is always somewhere between January 21 and February 20, and depends on the movements of the moon and the sun. The next one will be on January 31, and will start the Year of the Horse. Traditional red lanterns will hang from front doors and the family celebration includes a copious diner and an exchange of red envelops containing money.

Since the communist party has made religion illegal, several permitted "philosophies" are followed by the Chinese people: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism, though not the Roman Catholic kind.

Rosh Hashanah is regarded by most Jewish people of the world as their New Year. In that calendar, the day falls on the first day of the seventh month, meaning that it is also a fluctuating date, ranging from September 5 to October 5. Honey, apples, peas and fish are the staples of the New Year's diner.

Hijri, or Islamic New Year, does not fall on the first of January either, as the Muslim year is only 354 days long. Technically, the 2014 Islamic New Year is in the month known as Muharram, and was October 25, based also on a lunar calendar. It is now the year 1436, since the very first year of the Islamic calendar began only in 610 AD, and with the days starting at sunset, it makes for a complicated scheme to calculate the exact beginning of each new year, depending of the country celebrating it.

In Iran, the Persian New Year is Norouz, Nowruz, or No-Rooz, on March 20, the first day of Spring. The tradition calls for a renewal of wardrobe and a cleansing of houses and last 13 days. Bonfires are lit and one is supposed to jump over it to gather its energy. This is often accompanied by loud banging on metal pots. Each family shares the seven lucky objects representing the seven original immortals protecting them, and the tables are often covered with pastries, candles, eggs, apples, lentils, red fish and dry fruits.

The Gregorian Calendar was defined by Pope Gregory XIII, who, in the XVI century (16th) commissioned the civil calendar still in use today. Before that was the Julian calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar, and earlier the Roman calendar was in use. Astronomer Christopher Clavius believed the Julian Calendar was too long (at 365 days and six hours), so he convinced the good pope to change it to adjust to the real length of a year (at 365 days, five hours and 49 minutes). Petty, you think? But if you multiply by years, decades, centuries and millenniums, then we have a difference!

Happy New Year to all concerned!